I usually wake up to see my mother pottering around the house going about her morning routine - checking on her plants, boiling milk, having her first cup of coffee and putting rangoli in the courtyard. What stopped me in my tracks today is that my son was helping her with the design. My mom was making a simple dot and loopy kind of design and my son was making a ‘thoran'. Both were busy with their task and I didn't disturb either. But the wheels in my head were turning.
Here was a morning ritual I had taken completely for granted until now. I got chatting with my mum over coffee and she warmed up to the topic. She said there were several reasons why children should learn about these intricate designs, and that their purpose may not just be ornamental after all.
Street art that teaches culture and diversity:
Typically, a rangoli is an outdoor art form that adorns the thresholds of homes. Designs are inspired by nature, some are abstract, some are theme or festival based, some are circular, square, elliptical, dot based etc. If you live in South India, patrol the streets one morning. Every day, people wash their court yards and lay out new rangoli's. Let your child's senses be jostled by these elaborate designs. Encourage your child to talk to friends from different states and ask them the significance of rangoli. This is always a good starting point.
Geometry in a fun way:
Show him that geometry is not just a boring subject that you have to endure, but that it can be applied to art and design as well. About how various rhombus shapes put together can give a 3D effect to a rangoli and how different sizes of the same shape can make beautiful designs. This could also be used as an exercise in estimating sizes. Soon your child will learn and appreciate the simplicity and genius behind these age-old designs, and perhaps do better in geometry as well.
Remember sleeping lines and standing lines in nursery school? Well, in rangoli, when one sets off to learn the dry method using rangoli powder or rice powder, the first lesson is to master the art of holding the powder. You have to hold it in a sort of pincer grip and let the powder drop in a uniform straight line. Usually, the powder tends to fall in a blob rather than a straight line. Slowly, you get the hang of it, then you move on to curvy lines. Then finally, you learn to make a pattern. It's a fun way to develop motor skills, eye hand coordination, improve focus etc.
In most families, the women in the family learnt rangoli patterns by watching their mothers and neighbors at work. It is a good exercise in re-visualization. You can start by making simple designs on paper. Watch your child learn about how one simple wrong curve can ruin an entire elliptical design or symmetry of the piece. Or a wrong sequence of joining the dots that can turn your rangoli swan into modern art. It also makes for a good memory game for a rainy evening.
Some cultures state that rangoli brings good luck and wards off evil spirits. While this may have been injected into cultures to instill fear into people's hearts to ensure that they keep their courtyards clean, there is no denying the benefits of this humble ritual. On a philosophical note, it is an impermanent art (though you do get sticker rangolis today) where a rangoli is washed away to create another. Some rangolis may be good, bad, hurried and elaborate but sometimes they are just breathtaking, reflecting the vagaries of life itself. And whichever way it turns out, you always get another chance to begin a new day with a new rangoli.
So next time you are wondering about new activities to keep your children engaged with, give them the responsibility of cleaning and decorating the doorstep during summer breaks and festivals. Buy some rangoli books at the local book shop. Procure some colours/flowers to fill in the designs. Get a well-versed paati and hold a workshop. Hold a competition in your flat/neighbourhood.
Teach your child an age-old unique art form today. The ground is your canvas and there are certainly no limits.
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